Four Styles of Religious Marginality
Penny Long Marler and C. Kirk Hadaway
About fifteen years ago, the terms churched and unchurched began to be used to distinguish persons who were regular worship attenders from persons who rarely participated ( Hale, 1977; Perry, Davis, Doyle, & Dyble, 1980; Princeton Religion Research Center, 1978 and 1988; Roozen 1978). From a church/synagogue perspective, the churched were "in the tent," so to speak, and the unchurched were "outside the tent."
This division between the churched and unchurched may seem like an oversimplification, yet there are some very real reasons for making it. First, frequency of worship attendance is not normally distributed among the American population ( Davis & Smith, 1990). That is to say, the largest proportion of Americans do not fall in the middle of the church attendance distribution. People tend to be very active, attending every week or nearly every week, or they tend to be much more sporadic, attending several times a year or even less. 1 Attendance patterns, then, suggest a rough dichotomy between the active and the inactive, or the churched and unchurched.
Another reason for making the division is that persons who are active in churches frequently share similar social characteristic--particularly with regard to religious beliefs and behavior. Active people tend to be religious in every way. They see themselves as religious persons and as spiritual persons. They pray more and typically hold orthodox religious beliefs. They also tend to be socially conservative, particularly in the area of personal morality.
For dear empirical reasons, then, it seems appropriate to use terms like churched and unchurched, or as we prefer, active and inactive. Even though some overlap exists (e.g., there are religiously active persons who are socially liberal), the two populations seem quite distinct.